Clouds, rain no match for islanders’ spirit, as Heritage Centre opens officially

  • Aug. 25, 2008 6:00 p.m.

By Jeff King–Grey skies and rain proved again they are no match for islanders’ spirit, as the Haida Heritage Centre opened Saturday.As many ast 1,200 people-as big a crowd as has likely ever been assembled on the islands-turned out for the ceremony and celebrations, which started with the parade of the clans to the centre. Following that, the three new canoes, built over the last year and just finished days ago, were launched and returned to Second Beach, by which point the rain began, and all moved indoors for the grand opening ceremony. Premier Gordon Campbell along with other provincial and federal officials were unable to attend, as poor weather in Sandspit prevented their plane from landing.”It has been a dream of the Skidegate community for many years, now it is a dream come true,” said Pearle Peason, who was first to speak. “It took many years of hard work, it could not have taken place without the dedication and support of the Skidegate Band Council, both present and past members, the Kaay Society, the Haida Gwaii Museum Society, (and others)”It is a place to celebrate our past, a focal point”, she said, adding “The spirits of our ancestors are with us today as we celebrate a dream come true.”The Haida people have always been a friendly nation and that hasn’t changed. It has been wonderful to be part of what is happening here, said Reynold Russ-Chief Illjuwaas”I’m very honoured to speak today as Chief Executive Officer of the Kaay centre, said Miles Richardson. “Today is a glorious day for us. It is a day our community has dreamed about and planned for decades. Today marks a transition for us in very profound ways. What we are celebrating today is just beautiful, just awesome. The journey we are embarking on is going to be a good one.,” Mr. Richardson said.”We are not artifacts, we are a living, breathing people,” he added, and then said “I know the community has supported (each of our many) leaders throughout the years. I just wanted to spend a couple of minutes to acknowledge them.He then mentioned Pearle Pearson, Diane Brown, Wayne Wilson, and a long list of others others). Mr. Richardson said the centre is beyond world class, it’s Haida class, and said “we are just going to keep getting better. Come back in forty years. It is going to be a different world.” He then thanked the provincial and federal government for their contributions, and said “your support is why this opening is happening today.””On these islands we have to intertwine our roots so strongly that the strongest wind cannot blow us over. I feel so optimistic about the future. It is going to be an exhilarating time,” Mr. Richardson said.Skidegate Chief Councillor Willard Wilson welcomed all attending and said “you make us feel good when you come and celebrate with us.”Today is an important part of our transition in Skidegate. For over thirty years, our people have been talking about this facility. Today, we are getting it done,” he said.Mr. Wilson paid homage to Chief Skidegate and to Tom Greene Sr., “who showed us the way”.”We have one phase of it done. Our next phase is to make sure our Haida Heritage Centre is going to work the way we want it to. We have just begun. Howa to the Premier and his cabinet for helping us realize our dream. Howa for coming to help us celebrate, all of you,” Mr. Wilson said.Council of the Haida Nation President Guujaaw said Haida culture is often though of as pieces of art and songs, but he said those things are really about the land. (This facility). “is about the land and ties us to the land in the long-standing relationship our people have with the land,” he said.”I know there is a difference between this culture and civilization which is measured by how far away from the land you are. This facility will be measured by how relevant it is to the people who live here. When visitors come here, I think they will appreciate it all the more. It is a really active facility”, Guujaaw said.Bill Fisher, Director general for Western and Northern Canada for Parks Canada (the highest ranking federal official able to attend), said “the beauty of Gwaii Hanaas is enhanced by the Haida Heritage Centre The vision of the project was lofty. The world has come to understand and celebrate the future and the history of the Haida. With the new centre, the world will be able to appreciate and understand Haida heritage as never before”.Len Munt of the Forest Service in Queen Charlotte spoke on behalf of Premier Campbell. “The creation of this world-class centre is an incredible accomplishment of the Haida people and is an important new addition to BC’s rich cultural landscape,” the Premier later said in a prepared statement. The centre “is attracting and inspiring visitors from around the world, and is also a profound place of education and growth, creating a vivid legacy for future artists and expanding the local economy through the Aboriginal tourism industry.”Christopher Collinson then spoke, saying “as the president of the Haida Gwaii Museum Society I am going to offer a gift to the Kaay Society. We had a vision workshop, reworked our mission statement. It is simple, elegant and to the point. I am going to offer it. ‘To inspire, understand and respect for all that Haida Gwaii is.'” Willard Wilson then declared the Haida Heritage Centre officially open. With that, the cedar rope was cut, and a new era in tourism on the islands got underway. The $26-million, 53,000 square foot centre is open daily until mid-September, when its hours change for the winter.